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Archive for Thursday, March 27, 2008

Commentary: Globalization hurting U.S. sports

March 27, 2008

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Maybe it's just me. I might be a jingoist, or simply a step (or three) behind the grand notion of globalization. But I'm thinking that a lifelong Oakland A's baseball fan should not have to set the alarm for 3 a.m. in order to watch on TV as his team opens the 2008 regular season with a "home game" a world away in the Tokyo Dome.

That seems, if you'll pardon an antique phrase, un-American.

At least Boston Red Sox fans could sleep in Tuesday until 6 a.m., their reward, perhaps, for winning the World Series.

The A's and Bosox did it again Wednesday in Japan as Major League Baseball sells its soul to promote itself internationally.

There used to be a certain sanctity to American professional sports before globalization became the rather noble code word for disrespecting the fans who built the leagues' popularity in favor of growing the profit potential.

I don't mean players from abroad coming into our leagues. No. That's a very good thing. No one who has watched Yao Ming or Hanley Ramirez perform can be anything but grateful that American sports teams are enriched by imports.

My complaint is when our games are taken from where they should be - in our stadiums, arenas and ballparks, played before our teams' fans - and placed elsewhere for no reason but unnecessary, self-serving greed.

Miami Dolphins fans can relate, after seeing last October's "home game" against the Giants played in Wembley Stadium in London. Why? Because the NFL Europe league failed to catch on over there, so the NFL is now betting (at hometown fans' expense) that playing regular-season games there may create a spark that catches and turns into broad, lucrative interest.

It is worse, mathematically, that football fans would lose one of only eight real games to this experiment, yet, somehow, in baseball, it feels worse.

Baseball remains America's National Pastime in some emotional, historical, integral way that no other sport can equal let alone surpass. Even as the ugly spectacle of steroids and Roger Clemens' Congressional testimony echoes, there is something about baseball that is in our national bones the way football isn't.

And Opening Day merits the capital letters only in baseball. Used to, anyway.

Now the sport gives our Opening Day to Tokyo, and it's sacrilege. What's next? Japan takes the Fourth of July, too? How about, in January, we have our presidential inauguration in Mexico City?

I don't blame our pro leagues for trying to grow their popularity beyond U.S. borders because the sale of an officially licensed Manny Ramirez jersey is money in the bank whether it's bought with $100 or 10,000 yen.

But we needn't transplant our real games to accomplish that. The Internet breaks down walls, creates that globalization. Playing exhibition games abroad does that, too.

"The internationalization of sports is what we need to do now," commissioner Bud Selig said Tuesday on the TV broadcast from Japan.

You know what, Bud? Here's what you need to do even more.

You need to remember you are an American sports league whose priority, without exception, is to treat your teams' fans back home as though they matter most.

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